It’s been 10 years since The Strokes released their first album, “Is This It.” The success that they found in its wake was enormous, with critics notoriously crowning them “the saviors of rock music.” Building on the tradition of gritty NYC rock, made famous by bands like The Velvet Underground, the five guys from the lower east side of Manhattan built their trademark sound by writing simple, tight songs with stripped-down production.
With 2003’s “Room on Fire,” they followed suit with a more rounded sound. Our saviors lost steam with the sub-par 2007 effort, “First Impressions of Earth,” which was received poorly by fans and followed by an indefinite hiatus. It’s not uncommon that success is burdened, even suffocated, by less than fair expectations. Nonetheless, the Strokes return with their fourth album, “Angles.” While it’s not exactly the catalyst for a rock-revolution, it ain’t half-bad.
“Angles” is titled after the atypical songwriting method that the band undertook. On previous albums, singer Julian Casablancas wrote almost all the material – from arrangements down to guitar solos. This time, songs were written by the other band members: guitarists Nick Valensi and Albert Hammond Jr., bassist Nikolai Fraiture and drummer Fab Moretti. Casablancas removed himself from studio and sent his vocals to the band via email.
It generally works out well, with the band testing out some different perspectives and sounds. While the album lacks the raw, unrefined sound and cohesion that so many covet from their early work, a collective creativity still manages to shine through. “Machu Picchu” opens the album with muted, reverberated plucking that leads into the sharp, confident guitar work of the chorus. The congas in the pre-chorus add some flare to make things sound fresh.
“Under the Cover of Darkness,” the first single to be released from “Angles,” illuminates some of the albums high points, notably the guitar work by Valensi and Hammond. The Strokes have always been able to write extremely catchy riffs using only a handful of notes; and the taut, bending notes of this song’s go-to riff is a great example. The song flows seamlessly into an upbeat and memorable chorus.
Other highlights include “Two Kinds of Happiness,” a track that toys around with an ‘80s aesthetic and charges into another powerful chorus, with Moretti attacking the drums and the dueling guitarists filling up any spare room. Ambition and unpredictability shine through on “Metabolism,” proving the Strokes still have the confidence to keep us guessing.
The main drawback of “Angles” is its fragmented sound. The early Strokes albums played from start to finish in one, near-flawless experience. Here, ideas seem somewhat disconnected through the variation, making it tough to pinpoint a concrete influence or sound.
“You’re So Right” is one of the album’s lackluster songs. While darker and more experimental, it doesn’t seem to fit in with the bright, confident rockers from the rest of the album. The ‘80s nod fits nicely on “Two Kind of Happiness.” The group pushes the sound a bit too far with synths and programming on “Games.” The term “filler” comes to mind with the less-than-brilliant “Call Me Back.”
On “Under the Cover of Darkness,” Casablancas sings, “slip back out of whack at your best.” While “Angles” certainly isn’t the Strokes at their best, it shows some adaptability and chemistry between the group as a whole. It would be unfair to expect a return to the sounds and statements of “Is This It,” considering the changes that can take place over a decade. While it’s hard to say where they’ll go from here, “Angles” shows us that the Strokes still have the capacity to write catchy and inventive rock songs.